A Job Worth Applying To
2020 has been a particularly strong year for roguelikes. From recent hits like Spelunky 2 and Hades to niche gems like One Step From Eden, there’s no shortage of bosses to best and runs to complete. While the genre is notorious for its extreme difficulty, many of these roguelikes are surprisingly approachable for newcomers.
Going Under is a great example of this accessibility. Developed by Aggro Crab and published by Team17, Going Under puts players in the role of a marketing intern at a quirky startup. Tasked by your aloof boss with doing some spring cleaning, you must travel beneath the office and conquer the failed startups below.
It’s a wacky premise, but one that works well, thanks to sharp writing, colorful characters, and a vibrant visual style. Combat leaves something to be desired, and the game lacks the tight controls and gameplay depth of its contemporaries. But for those interested in a fresh roguelike that doesn’t take itself too seriously, Going Under has a lot to offer.
Another Day at the Office
Going Under takes a page from modern tech companies. You intern at Fizzle, a carbonated drink startup that specializes in concocting bizarre flavors. As you might expect from a startup, the walls are colorful, the people are bubbly, and there’s an appetite for buzzwords. As you navigate the office lobby and speak with co-workers, expect to hear everything from hitting KPIs to “crushing” it.
That is to say, Going Under nails the atmosphere of these startups. The game is relatively tongue-in-cheek, tending to critique these companies—think Facebook or Google—far more than it praises them. Yet, as someone who works in marketing, at a startup, I found myself chuckling at many of the parallels.
Spring (Cubicle) Cleaning
Gameplay in Going Under consists of two core loops. From the Fizzle lobby, you advance the story, run errands for co-workers, and earn skills to aid you in combat. When you’re ready for some dungeon-crawling, you descend into one of the startups underground. Your goal: to traverse a series of floors, defeat the end boss, and recover a trinket to display back at the Fizzle lobby.
Unlike games like Dead Cells, which offers multiple biomes across tens of hours, Going Under is relatively small in scope. There are only three dungeons in total, each of which can be completed in a matter of hours. However, Going Under makes up for its short length with its creativity.
Each dungeon sports its own unique style. Joblin is an Uber-esque office lined with cluttered paperwork, cab drivers, and coffee shops. Winkydink is a Tinder-inspired dating app run by devilish minions. And Styxcoin—a clear nod to Bitcoin—has you mine currency in a literal mine. While the gameplay doesn’t change drastically between these areas, these themes help keep things fresh from start to finish.
When navigating these dungeons, you have several tools at your disposal. You can pick up virtually any item laying about—from pencils to potted plants and keyboards—and use it as a weapon. These weapons have a set durability, Breath of the Wild style, so you’ll have to be resourceful with your inventory and cycle between items at a rapid pace.
You’ll also find and purchase various abilities from floor to floor. One may improve your odds of landing critical hits, while another electrocutes enemies when you get struck. These upgrades stack, meaning you can mix and match combinations for different playstyles.
Occasionally, you’ll come across opportunities to debuff your character for the next several rooms. (If you’ve played Hades, think of the boons Chaos offers.) While this adds risk to your run, it also grants you positive effects—like extra health—for the trouble.
Eventually, you’ll face off with one of Going Under’s end-dungeon bosses. These baddies cap off the run with a bang, complete with a massive health bar, multiple attack patterns, and even a Dark Souls-inspired “Boss Dismissed” message. They’re an enjoyable way to close out each level, offering a nice challenge without feeling overwhelming.
Some Unfortunate Fizzles
Despite the charm of these runs, gameplay in Going Under has some noticeable issues. Roguelikes are traditionally known for tight controls and reaction-heavy inputs. If you die, it’s typically on you rather than the game; practice makes perfect.
Going Under eschews these traditions. Combat feels imprecise, suffering from loose controls and sluggish animations. When I mistimed a dodge, or suffered an untimely hit, it tended to feel unavoidable. Getting “gud” could only get me so far.
Thankfully, the game itself isn’t too challenging. One skill in particular, which you can pre-set before runs, allows you to move and attack with increased speed. While just a band-aid to a larger problem, making this change gave me plenty of wiggle room as I made my way through the campaign.
There are other forms of progression to aid you, too. Each of your co-workers doubles as a potential “mentor.” By equipping a mentor prior to a run, you gain certain perks. For example, Fizzle’s CEO will let you buy items in the dungeon by expensing it to the company card. (Hilariously, doing so saddles you with an ankle weight—a reminder of your newfound debt.)
It’s those wonderful creative choices that make Going Under better than the sum of its parts. Gameplay may feel unwieldy, but wonderful dungeon design and charming bosses ensure the experience is never frustrating. Add in sharp writing, fun characters, and some genuine laughs, and it’s hard not to crack a smile.
If you’re looking for a roguelike with personality and wit, Going Under may surprise you. Mechanically, it won’t blow you away, but with so much character on display, this is one internship worth taking.
This Going Under review originally appeared on DarkStation.com, where the game was awarded 4 of 5 stars.